Monday, February 22, 2016

The Knotty NOT NOT Problem in Scriptures - Part I

I remember from English class that two negatives make a positive. That is, if I say, “Jesus was never unfaithful“, that would be taken as “Jesus was always faithful.” The two negatives, ‘never’ along with the ‘un’ should always be taken as the equivalent of ‘always’. That is that I was taught and possibly you too. I believe that is correct.

However, that teaching does not always hold true in a more general sense: not in our normal speech, and not in the Scriptures. By incorrectly generalizing that rule, some false understandings can develop.

Consider this verse from John 14:24 (NASB),
“He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”
The ‘does not love’ when paired with ‘does not keep’ creates a double negative. Does that mean that someone who ‘does keep’ can be assumed to ‘does love’? That is, is it correct to assume this passage means ‘He who keeps My words is one who loves Me’? I suggest the answer is, “Not necessarily.”

The proof of our love does not come from our actions. What we do may be indicative of our love, but only God knows the heart.

Therefore, John 14:23 (NASB) includes the positive statement,
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.’”
This now clarifies the intent of verse 14:24. True love creates true obedience, while lack of true love creates disobedience.

The difference between the first example, “Jesus was always faithful”, and John 14:23,24 comes down to how the two negatives are formed. In the first example, the two negatives refer to one object, the word ‘faithful’. In the second example, there are two objects, ‘love’ and ‘keep My words.’ If there is more than one object, the rule about two negatives may indicate the positive but it does not always apply.

In Part II of this series, we will look at another example of the Knotty NOT NOT problem.